Category Archives: Other Technology

Technology That Influenced My Life in 2017-2018: Bluetooth Receivers

I use a lot of recorded audio in my work, which can include anything from playing a Keynote with embedded video files on my MacBook, to playing audio from forScore on my iPad. Switching between audio connections can be a pain–and every moment that your eyes and body are doing something other than teaching is a moment for your students to be off-task as well. There are some classroom transitions that cannot be avoided–but with foresight, many tech transitions can be avoided.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I began using a microphone last year in my teaching. I already had a small mixing board connected to the sound system, so it became very easy to attach Bluetooth receivers (yes, plural) to that sound system.

In the past, I had tried to use AirPlay through Apple TV or even the Apple Airport Express. This worked, but there was always lag in the audio (push play and wait) and there were times that things did not work. In particular, we wanted a way to be able to control our middle school level musical from forScore, with every audio track embedded in the score, but I did not want to deal with wires, and AirPlay had too much of a lag.

Amazon to the rescue…quite literally.

Amazon sells a $20 Bluetooth receiver that can be connected to your receiver or mixing board (you need to buy the appropriate cables…1/8″ stereo to ?? Dual 1/4 mono? RCA? 1/8″ stereo?).

Once your iOS device or Mac (I cannot speak to Android, Chromebook, or Windows in this matter) is in range and the device is on, it automatically connects, and you can instantly play audio over the Bluetooth connection.

This isn’t new technology, but it sure works well.

I ended up buying a second Bluetooth receiver (I went with a different brand so they would look different in my Bluetooth menu on my device) for my MacBook. I could have bought two of the same unit and just experimented until I found out which receiver was which. I do not believe that you can rename units so they look different in your Bluetooth menu.

As a result, I could play audio seamlessly from either device, without wires.

A student COULD go up to your receiver and put it in “pair” mode to play their own music during your class, but they would have to do so physically (there is a button to press). Chances are that isn’t going to happen.

If you play audio files to a sound system in your room from one or more devices, a solid solution is to invest in a $20 Bluetooth receiver. Highly recommend!

Amazon referral link for the Amazon Basic Bluetooth 4.0 Receiver


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Technology that can help you through the tough days…

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We’re in the rough part of winter in the Midwest, where we will see temperatures between -20ºF and 50ºF over the next two months, with the potential of snow and rain (of both the frozen and unfrozen varieties).  These can be rough months to get through—made even more difficult if you are in a tough teaching positions.

I try to be very careful about what I post about my position, but my position is a tough position in a Title 1 school, and  there are unique challenges in my particular position as students have to take music, and if they aren’t in band or orchestra, they are in choir.  We’re also trying to integrate PBIS, the first year of a five to seven year process—and if PBIS is true (I think it is…PBIS is how teachers in healthy schools have always taught), then we also have to acknowledge that anti-PBIS is true.  Either your 60% of compliant students will impact the other 40% (I’m using skewed numbers reflecting my position), or the 40% of non-compliant students will impact the 60%.  Change is slow and hard.  And the issues aren’t solely in my classroom—they are present throughout the school (Otherwise, the answer is pretty simple: find a new teacher).

We have a new principal (who is excellent), we open a new school with different boundaries (and thus student population) in the fall, we are continuing with PBIS, and 8th Grade music will become an elective instead of a required course.  As a result, eight months from now, my position will look very different than it has for the past 9 years (this is my 5th year in this position).  That’s all good…but how do you make it through the next five months?

I am tired of the educational “gurus” who keep laying the blame on teachers.  If you think teachers are the problem, then get off your hiney and come work alongside those teachers and stop preaching at them from your social media pulpit.  In the process of chastising teachers, those who are doing what you suggest will simply puff themselves up, those that aren’t going to do it will still ignore you, and those in broken positions will take the admonition to heart, adding more weight to their “heart” that already feels as if they are to blame.

We also have to accept that some systems are broken, regardless of how much time you put into relationships with students.  I’m not saying that you shoudn’t build relationships with students—but I don’t know many teachers in this day and age who do not!  There are a few, sure—but they are far and few between.  In an industry where we are seeing teachers leave the field in less than three years, we need to start caring about the physical and mental well-being of teachers.  I fear that a lot of mental harm is done to teachers who are admonished for not working hard enough, not caring enough, and not doing enough to reach students.  This has to stop.

If you are a teacher in a happy, healthy situation—I celebrate with you.  I’ve been there with you, and I know how great that experience is.  Enjoy that time to the fullest and make it last as long as you can.  For those teachers who are in less than ideal situations—and you’re stuck in your position, I want to bring two tools to you today.

The first is simply a post by Tracy King, a music educator who has a presence on social media and sells a number of materials on Teachers Pay Teachers.  She wrote a blog about dealing with teacher burnout, and if your batteries are running low, read that blog post (link).

The second is for me to admit that I have always relied on my loud voice throughout my career.  I am an operatic tenor with the ability to produce a Decibel level approaching that of a jet taking off (well, not really).  When I was teaching high school choir, music theory, music history, or guitar, my students generally chose to be there and thus were invested in what they were doing.  I only raised my voice when I wanted to—usually as a joke.  Perhaps there were classes of 9th grade boys that needed more volume than others, but I generally just used my normal singing and talking voice (and I’m loud, as my wife would be happy to tell you)

Since I began teaching music to students at the middle school level, where a healthy percentage of students would rather not be in the class, I have found myself regularly suffering from vocal fatigue and connected illnesses.  I have had to be louder and larger to gain their attention.  Yes, I am aware that there are quieting techniques such as EnVoy (I am learning about EnVoy as part of my personal development plan this year), but those techniques are less effective when an entire school staff has to be louder and larger to fight an anti-PBIS environment (again, we’re in year 1 of a multi-year process).  As we moved to ukulele for a couple of months in the middle of the year, I found myself dreading the volume I would need to project over fifty ukuleles (as well as the students who simply keep strumming no matter what—the same students that if you take away the ukulele will disrupt your class in other more significant ways).  I thought back to my master’s work, where I took a class on “Body and Mind,” where the instructor (a voice therapist) begged all of us to use voice amplification systems.  I ignored that advice—I was teaching high school music to kids that listened, which didn’t stress out my voice (he also suggested that we don’t sing along with our students—something I still struggle with when teaching students.  Guess what I start doing when we go back to singing on a daily basis in March?).

I opened a new high school nine years ago, and it was technology-packed (thus my desire  to go to the school).  The technology package had a voice reinforcement package for every classroom.  It turned out it was truly “reinforcement” versus “amplification.”  Teachers needed amplification in the room, not “reinforcement.”  As a result, the system didn’t work for teacher needs—and specialists from the company were brought out who verified the systems were working as designed—with no benefit for the teachers.  As a result, nobody used those systems (I tried, and gave up, as did others).  With our new school that opens up next fall, “amplification” is included.  That will be a different situation altogether.

However, in our current school, there are only certain classrooms with the ability to do teacher amplification—and my classroom is not one of them.

I decided to break down and buy an inexpensive wireless microphone system (less than $40–the Pyle lavalier system.  I’m not going to give it a five star rating, but it works), which I have hooked up into our portable PA system.  I now run my computer through a Bluetooth audio connection (more about this later), and then my voice through the lavalier system, all through the PA.

Since adding the microphone, I find myself in a much better state of mind at the end of the day.  I can still utilize EnVoy techniques—but I also am taxing my vocal folds significantly less than I used to.  The job is still incredibly tough, and many days I still feel as if I am invisible or that I have failed—but some physical wear and tear has been taken off my shoulders, and that makes things a little bit better.  When you feel that you are at the bottom, even a little boost is significant.

So, that second tip?  Invest in a wireless audio system for your room.  I know it might sound crazy…but you owe it to yourself.  I was told to buy that system in 2002 and put it off for fifteen years.  I was a fool.  Don’t follow my foolish example.

At a later time, I will write about the Bluetooth audio connection and how that has been a blessing (and far more reliable than AirPlay).  I have also changed my approach to let my iPad be my iPad (after all, I bought it), and to use my school issued computer for projection without mirroring my iPad to that computer.  Again, I’ll write about all of this at a later point.

And to anyone going through tough times…many of us are with you, or have been in your shoes.   Some people have never been in that position, and they may not be able to empathize with you—so it can be a challenge to share how you are feeling—make sure that people actually want to hear how you are doing, and then share.  Sadly, many people are fine just using the superficial, “Things are great,” even when they are not.  Hang in there…take care of yourself…do get counseling help if you need it (yes, most of us benefit from such things)…and consider using some technology tools to help you make it through the day.


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The Roadie 2 Guitar/Ukulele Tuner

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A few days ago, my friend Paul Marchese (a music educator in Illinois) made a short video and post about the Roadie 2 tuner. He demonstrated how he could tune instruments in his classroom while students were playing by momentarily swapping a tuned instrument with the student and tuning the student’s instrument using the new Roadie 2. The original Roadie was a string winder that connected to your phone, using the phone’s microphone to tell whether a note was sharp or flat. Like all sound-based tuners, the device worked, but once you are in a situation where there is ambient noise (such as a ukulele jam or a classroom with 40 ukuleles) these tuners are no longer effective.  How is the Roadie 2 different? The Roadie 2 no longer needs the phone. It relies on vibration, like a clip on tuner, and then tunes your instrument for you.

And it works, and it works QUICKLY. Sure, I can take a clip on tuner between instruments and tune that way—but it takes longer. Now, if you have one ukulele, a $129 tuner is overkill. But if you have fifteen ukuleles at home, that might make the purchase worthwhile. And if you have over 100 instruments at school…saving a minute on each tuning (or even 30 seconds) will be significant.

A word about the app that comes with the device—it works. It connects via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and syncs your device “tunings” with custom tunings you created on your phone. You can custom name instruments—as I did with “Reeentrant Ukulele” (to differentiate between that and Linear tuning).

 

I’m looking forward to tuning ukuleles on Tuesday morning (we have no school on Monday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday). I think this is going to save me hours (and over time, days) of effort. Yes, the ability to learn how to tune is still important—but instructional time (and my prep time) is more important.

If you choose to buy a Roadie 2, will you consider using my referral link to Amazon (the Amazon seller is Band Industries, which makes the Roadie 2)?

Video follows below!


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Ten (iOS) Tech Tools to Help a Secondary Music Educator Prepare for a Concert (#1: Hardware Tools)

This is the final post in a series about ten iOS tech tools that can be used to help a secondary music educator prepare for a concert.  This series is based off a series by Amy Burns at mustech.net, who just wrapped up a series on ten tech tools that can be used by an elementary music educator prepare for a concert.  I teach secondary music education in a 1:1 iPad setting, so I have been working through the tools that I use to help me prepare for a concert.  Many of these tools are useful even if you do not work in a 1:1 setting.

For this last post, I think it is worthwhile to mention some hardware tools that I use in a concert.  I will list them as bullet points.  I will not discuss our risers or shell that we use in our gym (we are building a new building, and next year, our concerts will be in an auditorium).

I forgot to take a photo of the layout from our concert on December 14th.  Sorry…this worked REALLY well.  Nobody realizes (you probably do) the time it takes to figure out how to set up for a concert in such a way that it results in a flawless performance.

So, to the hardware:

  • Personal iPad: 12.9” iPad Pro
  • Apple Pencil
  • AirTurn GoStand
  • AirTurn Manos Universal Tablet Holder
  • PageFlip Dragonfly Wireless Page Turner
  • Sony MV1 Video Recorder
  • Photographer’’s Lighting Tripod for MV1
  • Attachment on Tripod to allow for the MV1 camera mount
  • A second iPad on a stand as well, which connects to control the MV1 remotely
  • Two powered speakers (PA system)
  • Extension cords (4) and a power strip.
  • Small Mackie Mixing Board (check out PreSonus’s packages to do a similar thing)
  • Bluetooth Receiver (wall powered). Amazon sells their own branded unit for $20.
  • 1/8” stereo to 1/4 plugs (to plug into mixer)
  • We do not print programs, so I put the program as a PDF in Google Drive, and then make a shortened URL using TinyURL, sending that link to parents a few days before the concert.  Google now allows for revisions, meaning that you update the Google file, and the file retains its same Google URL, meaning that you could theoretically save the most recent concert program to google and make a TinyURL for that file (file name: concertprogram.pdf, TinyURL: http://www.tinyurl.com/yourschoolchoir), and just update it for every concert.  This saves a lot of wasted paper, and gives parents a reason to be on their phones for the right reason during a concert.  If parents want a paper copy, I print them after the concert and mail them…still saving at least $100 and a lot of wasted paper.

I play accompaniments using my ukulele (and in our second concert, with student players, too) and backup tracks that I have created (on Notion, iReal Pro, or GarageBand) directly from forScore, pushing the audio from my iPad to the PA system via Bluetooth.  It works wonderfully.  I also plan on adding an Xvive 2 guitar controller to my ukulele to project it through the system in the spring.  I also leave the iPad controlling the MV1 behind the shell, starting the video before the concert and ending it afterwards.

I also stop at one point in the concert to take a photo of the choirs for our yearbook (using my iPhone 8).  Otherwise, we never get all of the students in one place wearing the right apparel at the same time ever again!

I set up the sound system behind our shell, and control volume right off the iPad.  We have a mic system in the gym for speaking, so I just use that system to address the audience.  In the future, I would like to have students introduce pieces—but in the midst of getting everything else ready, that is something that usually slips by.

If you need any help creating such a system for your school, please, send me an e-mail.  While the initial investment isn’t insignificant…the equipment will last for years.

I hope you have found this series helpful and that there have been a few apps or approaches that will enable you to more successful prepare for your next concert!  Happy New Year!  I hope 2018 is a great year for you, your families, and your programs!


Populele Review

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For anyone interested in the world of technology in music education as it pertains to ukulele, I was given the opportunity to review the Populele, an acoustic ukulele with an LED fretboard that connects via Bluetooth to a mobile app (iOS or Android). That review is on my ukulele blog (link).